01/09/2007, 00.00
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Politicians and the military, the real culprits in migrants’ massacre in Assam

Priest in Diphu analysises migrants’ massacre by Assamese separatist insurgents for AsiaNews. The 62 victims were easy target for a guerrila movement that is manipulated.

Diphu (AsiaNews) – Assam’s separatist guerrillas have struck again and killed civilians, “soft targets” for a movement manipulated by politicians and the military who want to see blood flow over the entire region. Only a strong will can stop it, this according to Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe, a priest in Diphu, who has looked into the situation in this north-eastern Indian state for AsiaNews.

For the past four days, militants from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) have launched a virtual manhunt against migrants from the state of Bihar accusing them of being foreigners who still jobs from locals.

Yesterday three other migrants were killed bringing the total death toll to 62. Those who can are fleeing the state.

One fails to understand what the banned militant group aims to achieve by killing common people. In the past, ULFA also launched such barbaric attacks on common people and lately, it started looking for soft targets like blasts in public places to make their presence felt.”

However, for the clergyman, the recent spate of attacks must have a more specific goal. They are shooting at Hindi-speaking people, calling them “foreigners” and shouting they should be driven out of Assam.

In his opinion, no one can ignore the government’s utter failure to deal with the crisis, unable to protect the victims’ life and property and must bear some part of the responsibility for these murders.

Whilst no one should expect the authorities to protect everyone, what is scary is that they are doing nothing against those who call Indian citizens “foreigners” in their own country.

Assam’s state government should have learnt the lesson from 2003 when a similar senseless bloodbath took place. Now history is repeating itself but nothing is being done to stop it. Local political parties and social groups have condemned the incidents. ULFA has just attacked the government.

The roots of the crisis go back in time. Joined by the British to their Indian possessions, much of the population rejected annexation and remained proud of its historic, cultural and social roots. In 1979 a separatist guerrilla movement launched attacks that have cost so far the lives of 15,000.

For Father Mangattuthazhe, “ULFA has exploited this factor and used violence against those it considers outsiders. Killing civilians is part of the strategy of creating a new order and convincing Delhi to negotiate and pull its army out of the state. Migrants are soft targets and easy to attack”. Recent episodes of violence in the districts of Tinsukia and Karbi Anglong are cases in point.

It is important to understand that “attempts to develop the local economy have failed. Education levels may be high but so is unemployment. Tea production, the mainstay of the local economy, has suffered from greater competition from the rest of India. And the Assamese oppose outside foreign economic forces, concerned that they are imposing their culture and devaluing that of the local population. In this context, migrants are seen as thieves.

The central government has treated the insurgency as simply a law and order issue, blaming foreign powers like Bangladesh.  It has also tried to pour money into the area but has done so without a proper investment plan that can create real jobs.

Father Mangattuthazhe’s conclusion is a bitter one. “I think,” he said, “that there are social and political forces who have an interest in seeing Assam bleed. The insurgency is not a protest movement against the presence of real or imaginary foreigners. It’s become a business for the military and politicians. At this point only a strong will can stop the murder of the innocent”. (NC)


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